Thursday, February 28, 2008

Death By A Thousand Hacks

As a counterpoint to my entry “Why YOU should write Stigmata 3,” I’m now going to tell you how to protect your dream screenplay from a death by a thousand hacks. I’ll start with the hard truth.

The trouble with aspiring screenwriters (whether they realize it or not) is they think of themselves as playwrights instead of filmmakers. They write stunningly original and deeply personal stories and then expect “them” to make the movie just as they have written it. With a few notable exceptions, it never works out that way.

The most likely thing “they” will do with your stunningly original and deeply personal script is ignore it. Stunningly original and deeply personal scripts almost always lose money, and “they” won’t take the risk. In the very unlikely event that your screenplay is actually sold, every word will eventually be rewritten by others, probably by “hacks” like me.

Take the example of my own brother, Brendan Hood. He has been writing original and personal screenplays since he was 14. You can read his brilliant horror screenplay for the movie “They” here. The spec script bears no resemblance the film that was eventually produced. Now, read his sobering interview about the recent release of his follow up movie “Deaths of Ian.” The bottom line is that “they” took his screenplays, not once but twice, and rewrote every word.

Brendan Hood Final
Brendan William Hood

I say this not to vilify “them.” Would you risk millions of dollars of your own money on somebody else’s poetry? Most investors who get charmed into financing movies ultimately feel they were swindled by a bunch of flakes and charlatans. Read “their” perspective here.

And for the record, a lot of “them” (studio executives) turn out to smart, perceptive, and creative film-lovers who are just as frustrated as we are when good scripts get mangled by the development process. So don't blame them. You may even find that working with them on genre sequels and comic book adaptations is a lot of fun.

But meanwhile, there is only one solution for you and your stunningly original and deeply personal script: become a hyphenate. Direct it yourself, or raise the money yourself and own your own product. Start by scraping together a little cash for a short film. In the age of digital filmmaking, you don't have excuses any more. Most of all, remember that you are not a writer; the words on the page are just blueprints. You are a filmmaker, and as a filmmaker you should take responsibility for your own films.

For those filmmakers out there who are not cut out to be either producers or directors (and many screenwriters are not), form a close relationship with a producer or director that will last beyond a single film. Filmmakers who find the right creative collaborators, people who force them to make changes to their screenplays FOR THE BETTER, craft the the kinds of scripts that win awards and inspire the rest of us to keep on hacking. You can that too.

Joining Filmmaker’s Alliance is a great place to start.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Horror and Poetic Logic (part one)

Everyone who plans to attend the next filmmakers forum (Los Angeles), in which we will discuss "how to make a frightening horror film without gore," should read Jacques recent recent blog entry on poetic logic versus narrative logic. A Filmmaker's Life

At the forum I'll argue that it is these methods of poetic cinema, irrational juxtaposition and dream logic (or nightmare logic), that make great horror films, and that this is why many popular movies in the genre make little narrative sense.

It's no accident that most of the most famous cinema "poets," from Kubric (The Shining) to Bergman (Hour of the Wolf), Tarkovsky (Stalker) to Polanski (Repulsion), have all made horror movies.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Have Movie Critics Become Irrelevant?

Now that anyone and everyone with an internet connection can be a movie critic, what is the point of professional reviewers? Do we really need someone's professional opinion on NATIONAL TREASURE? Do I really need to read a professional's top-ten-list, which invariably amounts to a re-ordering of THERE WILL BE BLOOD, SAVAGES, NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN and JUNO, among the other anointed?

But skimming a top ten list in the Wall Street Journal, I came across this paragraph.

"Including a documentary that almost no one has seen may seem like an affectation, but my hope is to get you to see "Manufactured Landscapes," not to impress you with the fashionable obscurity of my taste. Discovering Jennifer Baichwal's film at the New Zealand Film Festival earlier this year -- it also played briefly in this country -- was a perception-changing experience. Inspired by the work of the Canadian photographer Edward Burtynsky, "Manufactured Landscapes" starts with an eight-minute tracking shot down one aisle of a Chinese factory the size of a small town. Then it follows Mr. Burtynsky on a tour of industrial Asia in order to show -- without polemics -- the scale of man's activities, and the impact they're having on our planet. I thought I had some sense of that impact until I saw this astonishing doc."

What startled me about that paragraph is that the reviewer, Joe Morgenstern, felt the need to apologize for doing his job. It seems to me that when the internet is flooded with amateur reviews, the only legitimate function of the critic, who travels around the world to film festivals and who does nothing else but watch movies, is to find obscure and under-promoted cinema and bring it to the public's attention. I haven't seen MANUFACTURED LANDSCAPES, but I will now.

By extension, I hope that the Filmmakers Alliance posting board and blog give us a forum not only to discuss our all time favorites, but to share those obscure and under-promoted titles that we would otherwise never come across. As filmmakers we can discuss what our own movies could be in the context of these strange little movies that continue to inspire us.

As for the old fashioned newspaper critics and new fangled bloggers who snark and snipe about the next Batman movie, they're only waisting our time.

- sbh

P.S. Not that there's anything wrong with Batman. The trailer looks way cool, although Heath Ledger looks eerily like Brandon Lee in The Crow.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Why YOU Should Write "Stigmata 3"

“Why the Hell does THAT guy keep getting work?”
I know that’s what you’re thinking. You read my past credits (Halloween 8, Cube 2, The Crow 4) and you say to yourself, “Those movies were CRAP. I could do better than that.” Maybe you have a horror script in your drawer right now that is you think is pure gold. Maybe you’ve read in the blogs that I wrote a script called Hercules for Millennium films, or that I will be re-writing Subterranean for Beacon, or that I’ve handed in a draft of Stigmata 2 for MGM and your rolling your eyes with indignation and disgust.
Well I’m going to explain to you why I keep getting work, why self-respecting writers and filmmaker’s like me would ever do straight-to-video sequels like Stigmata 2, and why when you are offered the job to write Stigmata 3, you should take it.
First off, when movie executives decide to hire me as a writer, let’s say on Stigmata 2, they do it because they have read screenplays I’ve written for movies that never got made. That screenplay in your drawer? Yeah, I’ve got a dozen of those, and the primary reason I get work is that mine are better.
Secondly, one of the first hard lessons of screenwriting is that a good script is no guarantee of a good movie, and that when the movie doesn’t turn out well, very few people will know or care that your well-written screenplay didn’t make it through the process.
In 2002, the original script for Cube 2 was good enough to land me a multi-picture deal at Dimension Films. Afterwards however, my Cube 2 script was completely re-written by two other writers, one of whom was the producer. The movie that came out contained virtually nothing from my original script. That’s how it goes on most films. It’s just the nature of the film production.
And, I shouldn’t complain about being rewritten. On both Halloween 8 and Crow 4, I was hired as a script doctor to “polish” other writers’ scripts. I did the rewrites on the eve of production, and tried my best to make improvements. Again very little of my work made it to the screen, but the money was good, and enjoyed collaborating with the people involved.
You see, that’s what screenwriters do. They work on films, both high and low. Before he wrote Lone Star, John Sayles wrote Alligator. Before he wrote award winners like Eastern Promises and A History of Violence, David Cronenberg did movies like Rabid and Parasite.
Take the example of the purest, film-artist I know, Jacques Thelemaque. His films have won awards in European Festivals from the kind of judges who only like movies by Ingmar Bergman and Andrei Tarkovsky. He’s president of Filmmaker’s Alliance, a grassroots organization dedicated to supporting film artists outside the studio system. You’re not going to find an artist more dedicated to his personal vision (read his excellent blog, A Filmmaker’s Life). But do you want to know what he does as his day job? He produces little straight-to-video horror films with titles like “Within,” “Midnight Movie,” and “Augie and the Wolf.”
The fact is that you CAN do both.
But what’s that? You say you can’t possibly compromise your vision? Then finance your films yourself. Join a group like Filmmaker’s Alliance. Learn the perils of independent filmmaking and self-distribution. That’s just what I did. And as a result, I won a contest and a grant at the DGA given by FA, Kodac, and Panivision to make a short film just the way I want to, with no rewrites and no compromises.
Meanwhile, I make my living writing little genre movies. I write action. I write horror. I write thrillers. I do it because it’s fun. I do it because it’s a lot easier than loading trucks and more interesting than making lattes. I do it because I love the thrill of writing “the car explodes” and then watching, months later, a REAL CAR EXPLODE.
How can I stand having my name on movies that some people mock and despise? It’s part of the job. No matter what movie you work on you must be prepared for the possibility that it could turn out to be an embarrassing disaster. You have to be prepared to take the heat, or worse yet, the complete… unmitigated… indifference.
That’s the risk I’m taking writing Stigmata 2, and so far it’s worth the risk. People are telling me, in mildly shocked tones, that the first draft is “actually, really good.” As rewrites continue I will continue to throw all my passion into the project, and I remain optimistic that this time, against the odds, my work will make it to the screen, and that this time... it will turn out really, REALLY well.
So, maybe that horror screenplay in your drawer really is pure gold. Maybe it will win screenwriting contests and score you an agent. Maybe movie executives will read it and be so impressed they will offer you the opportunity to write Stigmata 3, the follow up to the surprise straight-to-video hit Stigmata 2. If that happens, don’t be a jackass…
… take the job.